About 80% of all crime in the area is committed by gang members, according to a law enforcement presentation held Thursday.
The Yuma Police Department and Yuma County Sheriff’s Office gave a snapshot of crime in the community during the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce “Good Morning, Yuma!” monthly breakfast.
YPD Lt. Scott Legros and YCSO Lt. Sam Pavlak presented statistics on crime rates, drug awareness, gang reports and scam alerts, using information for the months of July through September.
The trends in the city and county are very similar, Legros noted.
For both the city and county, “other crimes” topped the list, followed by theft. Pavlak noted that for the county, the “other” category includes sex offenses and miscellaneous crimes.
In the city, the other top crimes, in order, are burglary, assault, drug offenses, fraud, criminal damage and disorderly conduct.
The vacant homes of winter residents tend to get burglarized during the summer, when no one is around to watch their homes, Legros said.
In the county, “thefts, assaults, and frauds are big ones for us,” Pavlak said.
Criminal damage, drug offenses, burglary and disorderly conduct top the list for the county.
The officers gave an overview of the gang activity in the area. Legros noted that about 80% of all crime is committed by gang members.
Gang criminal activity includes drive-by shootings, assaults, robberies and burglaries, trafficking in stolen property, guns, narcotics sales and use, extortion and theft.
Yuma has about 60 gangs, with the number of members ranging from 10 to several hundred. They are increasingly using social media, such as Snapchat, because they can communicate securely.
One of the new trends are gangs that don’t have territorial disputes and don’t follow a code of conduct. They cross territories and associate with other gangs.
“They’re very difficult to track and apprehend,” Legros said, adding that these gangs are branching out and getting involved in all sorts of crimes.
Motorcycle gangs are moving into the area as well. “They’re actually here,” Legros said.
The top motorcycle gangs are the Hells Angels, Vagos and Mongols.
“They like to portray themselves as great community leaders and great supporters of the community,” Legros said.
However, he noted, they all have links to organized crime and violent histories. They are involved in drugs, weapons and sex trafficking.
Legros also addressed phone scams, which include scammers claiming to represent a government agency or big company. They might pose as law enforcement and tell the potential victim that they have a warrant for his or her arrest. They tell the victim that they need to pay over the phone to avoid the arrest.
Or the scammer might pose as the IRS and request personal or financial information, such as their Social Security number. They might threaten to harm the victim if they don’t provide information.
Other scams involve product or travel offers that sound too good to be true.
“Everyone here has gotten a phone call at one time or another,” Legros noted.
He listed some of the pressure tactics and phrases scammers use: “You’ve been specially selected!” “You’ll get a free bonus if you buy our product.” “You’ve won one of five valuable prizes.” “You’ve won big money in a foreign lottery.” “This investment is low risk and provides a higher return than you can get anywhere else.”
They tell the potential victim that they have to make up their mind right away and that they don’t need to check with the company or anyone.
They might say, “We’ll just put the shipping and handling charges on your credit card. You trust me, right?”
Spoofed numbers are also a problem. The number that appears is usually not the caller’s real number. Legros quipped that he’s gotten calls from his own phone.
His advice: don’t answer calls from unknown numbers, don’t provide sensitive data to unknown callers and don’t follow instructions like “Press 1 to get off the call list” or “say yes if you don’t want to receive calls.” They might be recording the person’s voice to use in an unauthorized manner.
For help with scams, call the Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357 or go to www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov; the Federal Communications Commission at 888-225-5322 or www.consumercomplaints.fcc.gov; or the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360.
Pavlak provided information on the fentanyl epidemic, which is “hitting our community very hard,” he said.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is primarily manufactured in China. It’s trafficked in Mexico and via the “dark web” and smuggled into the U.S. on vehicles or by body carriers.
Pure fentanyl is usually mixed with a cutting agent, such as baby formula or a protein, with the ratio amounts usually random. The drug is typically offered as a pill and might look like candy. Each pill is sold for $5 to $10. If a drug trafficker buys a kilogram for $500, he could easily turn it into $30,000.
“You can see why it’s a lucrative business for the drug traffickers. Very big profit margin,” Pavlak said.
From Jan. 1 to Sept. 6, the Yuma County Narcotics Task Force seized about 3,445.6 grams of fentanyl pills and 251.2 grams of pure fentanyl.
“That’s just one agency in our county,” Pavlak said. “It’s a very deadly and dangerous narcotic. A couple of micrograms is enough to kill you.”
They shared information related to opioid overdoses and naloxone administered in Arizona from June 15, 2017, to Aug. 15 of this year: suspected opioid deaths 3,516; suspected opioid overdoses 25,115; babies suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (withdrawal) 1,536; naloxone doses dispensed is 56,315; and naloxone doses administered 15,925. Naxolone, also called Narcan, is a medicine that counteracts the effects of opioids.
From Jan. 1 to Aug. 16, the Yuma Police Department responded to 79 overdose cases. About half are believed to be linked to fentanyl. YPD officers administered Narcan to 10 persons.
“There is help,” Pavlak said. “It’s a real thing. It’s an epidemic and it’s a hard habit to break.”
The Arizona Opioid Assistance and Referral Line 24/7 helpline is 888-688-4222. HOPE Incorporated Outreach Team is located at 201 S. 1st Ave., in Yuma, and can be reached at 928-782-8745.